"Hotel Rwanda" is the story of hope set in the midst of the 1994 genocidal slaughter in Rwanda. Almost a million Tutsiís were massacred by their Hutu neighbors, mostly by machete. This is the true narrative of how one man, Paul Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle, is a hero who uses his wiles to call on favors and save over 1,000 refugees from death by harboring them in the hotel that he manages. Paul is an inspiring character who has a fierce commitment to family and to those who rely on him. Westerners abandon the Rwandans leaving us with questions about how the rest of the world could have let this happen.
Irish-born Director/Writer/Producer Terry George received an academy award for his first produced screenplay, the remarkable "In the Name of the Father" (1993). He has written and directed other films including "A Bright Shining Lie" (1998), for HBO about the Vietnam War. He said he wanted to bring the "Hotel Rwanda" story to life because he believes that stories about political and social upheaval in the native populations of -Africa are actively avoided by the movie industry.
"Hotel Rwanda" doesnít make a political statement against the Hutus, but focuses on the irrational and arbitrary nature of war, and asks how people can be so cruel to each other. It hints of the chaotic, incomprehensible confusion that occurs during wars, but doesnít make you feel as if youíre in it like "Saving Private Ryan," from 1998 does in its first D-Day scenes. Producer, Alex Ho who also produced war films "Born on the Fourth of July," 1989 and "Platoon" 1986, says they purposely leave out the graphic details so that a wider audience could view it.
We see that Hutus are married to Tutsis, and that Hutus and Tutsis are friends. The differences between the two, according to the film, are the difference in physical features that were arbitrarily determined by the Belgians. Terry George says he used the extremist Hutu radio station as another character to convey the power of propaganda and fear that drives people to think they have to murder to save themselves.
Sophie Okonedo ("Dirty Pretty Things") plays Tatiana, Paulís self-possessed wife. Okonedo plays the role to perfection. She draws you in with her brilliant performance as Paulís strong and admirable partner. The only weak point in the film is Nick Nolte as the U.N. liaison whose uneven performance interrupted the rhythm and tone of the film. All of the other characters were cast and played to perfection. There were no caricatures; all the roles - from the humanitarian worker, the priest, the orphans, refugees, and machete wielding soldiers - were believable and nuanced characters, even if only on the screen for a short time.
Don Cheadle has the best - and most expressive - face in film today. He aced the role of Paul, the hotel manager, and from now on will be on Hollywoodís A list. Cheadle has acted since childhood, but as a character actor, has probably only come into most peopleís awareness in the past few years. He has a talent for accents which range from Cockney in "Oceans Eleven" and "Twelve," to his present role as a Rwandan. In this role he seems to inhabit Paulís soul. Even in the midst of bedlam Paul keeps to his routines and maintains his composure. Cheadle didnít waver from his character or indulge in trite devices or melodrama to create the character, even for a second. He gives us a disciplined, studied performance, as he always does. Cheadleís posture, intonations, and facial expressions transform him into the educated and big-hearted Rwandan whose deep sense of humanity and loyalty to his family and fellow humans is summoned in a desperate time.
"Hotel Rwanda" deals with the most horrifying subject; it gives a human face to the sad tragedy and offers hope. It reminds us that one person can make a difference.
In San Francisco, this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine.
© 2005 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 1/2005
Running time: 121 minutes/Rated PG-13/English